Irish Distributor Wholefoods Wholesale Taps ECRM for Virtual Product Discovery  5/3/2020

David Morrin, Wholefoods Wholesale

Last week ECRM launched its Efficient Supplier Introductions in Europe, giving retailers, wholesalers and foodservice operators the ability to meet with suppliers at scale in a virtual format so that they can continue their product discvery efforts even though they can't travel. 

In this interview, ECRM VP of Content Joseph Tarnowski speaks with David Morrin of Wholefoods Wholesale, Ireland's largest distributor of natural foods and healthcare products. He participated as a buyer on ECRM's Euro Beauty Efficient Supplier Introduction, where he saw presentations from more than 10 suppliers in the category. He talks about his experience on the ESI, and how the ECRM team helped him to prepare for his meetings as well as how they managed the meetings to ensure a successful experience for all those involved.

David also discusses how the coronavirus has driven the industry to virtual solutions like ECRM's ESIs, and how he feels they will become more prevalent even after the pandemic passes.

Click here to view all of the ECRM European Efficient Supplier Introduction categories.

Listen to the podcast (view the video below):


ECRM: Hey, everybody. Joe Tarnowski here with ECRM, and I have with me today David Morrin from Wholefoods Wholesale in Ireland. David, thank you for joining us.

Morrin: No problem at all. Glad to be here.

ECRM: We met for the first time actually last year at our ECRM Euro Foods Session, correct?

Morrin:  It was a food session, yeah. I did two last year, but it was definitely the food.

ECRM: Gotcha, and we did a video interview back then. David just actually participated in our Euro Beauty Efficient Supplier Introduction. We're going to talk a little bit today about his experience with that. Before we get into it, David, can you give an overview of your company and the retailers that you service?

Morrin: We're a distributor in the Republic of Ireland to health stores, pharmacy, grocery, foodservice, and everything that we do is in the health and wellness sector, whether it's food, we got the cosmetic line, supplement line, and we have leading brands in the markets in supplementation and food and beauty that we are the agency distributors for. We also have a massive wholesale catalog as well.

Our catalog is a one stop shop for our retailers. We've got the full reach into the health store market in Ireland, which has always been our core business and the backbone of what we do. In terms of looking at sourcing for products, we're always keeping an eye on what's new and what's coming down the line, especially looking further field than where we would normally look, like the UK, but I think in recent years the need is for us to look further into Europe and beyond to source products to bring cutting edge products to our customers.

We're a business based in Dublin. We have 75 employees. We're established since 1983. We've grown holistically with the health and wellness trade in Ireland as well and we've evolved over time. A lot of our employees are here 25, 30 years as well, so there's a great level of knowledge and expertise here for natural products in the market. We have sales teams in all channels that can back that. We're a very passionate company, very involved in always trying to continuously improve ourselves as well. Right now sustainability, social consciousness and eco solutions are very prevalent. We're learning and adopting and pushing forward every day with what our product offering.

'From start to finish, it was flawless' - David Morrin, Wholefoods Wholesale

It's a very exciting time. The coronavirus brings in its own challenges as well right now. That's why we're talking on this forum. We've had challenging times over the last couple of months that have reshaped how we do things and will probably reshape how we do things going forward. We introduced very successfully a split shift in the warehouse to halve the amount of people in our warehouse at any one time, and it's worked out really, really well. It meant that we could have continuous supply of our leading brands to our retailers that really need them for their consumers. We have, I'm sitting in a track suit top in the office today, but I'm one of a few people in the office. Everybody is at home set up with IT solutions to do their jobs so that we can maintain social distance. I'm lucky I can come into the office and escape the family for a couple of hours every day.

The human interaction, the need for us all to pull together as a community in Ireland and beyond in with our suppliers is so prevalent. We've been doing all we can to support suppliers and retailers alike and it's been challenging, but there's a real sense of that we're in this together. We actually have kind of a #inthistogether initiative ourselves and the company whereby we're asking our suppliers and our retailers just to put positive stories to help us all through these times. I think, how it will change our company and the industry, I think we'll just all be a little bit more considerate of each other and compassionate. 

It'll change our way of interacting, like this. It means perhaps less need for that long-distance travel that might suck your energies and your time and that things may become a bit more efficient. That being said, I miss the travel, miss the trade shows. I missed the ECRM event in March, which was scheduled out to be in Rome. It's always something to look forward to and always something where we allocate the time and our efforts to interact with, and I'm just delighted that it hasn't gone cold and that we can have events like we had during this week and beyond and then catch up with people like yourself, Joseph.

ECRM: The last time we did an interview it was actually in person in Poland at our Euro Food session, so same thing; I do miss the face-to-face interaction. I would have been there with you in Rome had it happened in March, but you're right.

Morrin: It's something to look forward to for how you guys run your events. It's regimented, but fun. You know where you have to be at any one time and if you're there, and you don't have your badge on, you're in trouble. You just keep everybody on the straight and narrow, but there's a great sense of community about it. Everybody is equal. It is fun from start to finish, and sometimes that fun is even just getting from A to B on a different floor of a hotel to get to a different room. Just the interaction then with everybody that's involved is just something that makes an intense couple of days of meetings just easy and enjoyable and you look forward to the next one.

ECRM: Yep, but at least for the foreseeable future, this whole change, like you mentioned, now we're living in a virtual world, at least for the time being, so we've come up with some different solutions. The efficient supplier introductions are one of them. Here in the United States this month we're going to be launching virtual sessions as well, which is going to provide the one-on-one interaction and I believe we're going to expand those into Europe too. For now, we're doing the ESIs to at least let you continue to do your sourcing and product discovery in a format that works for today's world.

Morrin: Without it, without looking for new products, without looking for innovation, without looking for the next big thing or the next few small things, you run a risk then of staying stale. We need to develop new products all the time. That's one of the core things that we do as a business is bringing new products all the time, because one of them could be the next big thing. If we just looked at our product portfolio, and said, "That's enough and that's what we have," we wouldn't have some of the leading brands that we have today. It's always important to get out there and look and see what's happening in the trade. Like I said, it's really important, and what you guys provide, is a further view, looking further. It's always been one of the main attractions to the format.

ECRM: Excellent. Take us through the process that you went through. Once you registered, how did our client success managers work with you to get you prepared to do this virtual meeting?

Morrin: It was in stages. It happens, I suppose, there was the, we're almost at a stage where flights were books and hotel rooms were paid for and then restrictions go into place, and rightfully so. I think as we, the early days of COVID-19, we're all waiting to see what happens. Right now, if somebody was to tell me there was a trade show next month, there shouldn't be. It is, it's a very responsible thing and reaction to happen was to cancel the events and work on a solution.

The solution involved, I suppose, making sure we were available. Obviously, we want to be involved because we see the huge value of ECRM. It's just such a practical format to see so many suppliers as opposed to go into a trade show where you're fighting to get on the stand and see somebody and they're busy. You have an appointed slot. People are prepared. They've done a bit of research on you. You've done the research on them. With this format, just agreeing the dates and then there was a session with Audrey [Nguyen] prior just to see if the technology worked. I'm a little bit familiar with Zoom; didn't realize that if you don't sign up they cut you off after 40 minutes. Now, I'm a Zoom customer properly.

Just trying out the technology with Audrey before I knew what to expect then going into the group meeting. Probably the group meeting, and whereby it's 20, 25 buyers all looking at a presentation from the brands. The moderator started and finished exactly when it was meant to be done. The timing of it was, here's the start and here's the finish, and it didn't deviate. There was time for questions and answers and credit to the suppliers. The presentations were very succinct. We could ask questions. The moderator asked those questions for us.

We were then given a video afterwards and all the details afterwards as well, so I'm not scrambling to take notes. I'm not scrambling to remember things. I'm getting a good feel because I'm allowed to listen to the supplier giving their pitch. Like I said, on paper, some of those pitches, some of those brands will be like, "That's not really our thing," and then to hear the pitch and listen and not be worried about anything else, you're like, "Okay, there's actually, I can see an angle in that for us. That's really interesting, and that'd be one to maybe follow up and develop afterwards."

From start to finish, it was flawless from my aspect. All that could really let it down would be our wifi or my laptop, really. When I logged in, it was ready to go. I sent a picture up on LinkedIn just saying, "Ready to go. Here it begins." They run like clockwork. I'd say, in credit to you, and I mentioned it earlier too when we were talking beforehand, I'd say it's probably very daunting from a supplier perspective to see maybe the camera's not turned on or blank faces, not hear voices, but from my perspective, what I gained from the, I suppose, the conferencing part of it would be that I was also in a room with other suppliers and they were also asking other questions and I benefited from their questions and they may have benefited from mine. Whereas, normally in a scenario where with ECRM, I'm in a room on my own or with another buyer and it's a one-on-one. I might miss something. I might not ask the right questions, so I benefited from the collaborative format.

ECRM: For those people who are watching this that aren't familiar with the efficient supplier introductions and how they work, on one side you have up to about 20, maybe a little bit more, buyers and/or distributors or wholesalers, and then on the other side are about 10 suppliers who each have 10 minutes to present to the buyer panel.

Morrin: And they're waiting to go in their own little slots, as well.

ECRM: Yes, it's moderated. We have a client success manager who moderates it and makes sure everybody starts and ends on time; just like we do in our physical meetings. This way there's a little bit of time for Q&A after each one and then, like David said, the buyers are putting out the questions as a group. As the supplier answers each one, the whole group can hear it. I think the whole thing is two hours, correct?

Morrin: Yeah, it was two hours from start to finish. Ylenia [Nasca] was the moderator, as well. She just kept everything going and there was little downtime in between one supplier leaving the room and one supplier entering the room. It was really good, two hours and we got to meet 12 different suppliers and learn about their products; the format was excellent. The time flew in and, like I said, we benefited from that collective approach in terms of other people asking questions that you may not have thought of. 

ECRM: That's great to hear, and you may have found a couple of interesting things there hopefully.

Morrin: Yeah, there's definitely ones I want to follow up on. Like I said, we have had experience with a couple of the brands beforehand and know their relationships with our market. There were some things that were completely new and really interesting to find out and then there's others where I can see potential and have follow up questions to ask. When you look for their field, it's important for us not to overlook maybe domestic solutions. I'm seeing fantastic brands, there may be something more close to home that makes more sense. Generally, we're looking at this with an open mind; how can they make that brand work if I just really like packaging, the proposition and the price points?

We have then the opportunity to bring something in that nobody else has seen to the market, as well. What our company is known for as well is finding the new things and bringing them to the market that not everybody scrambling to give. Unique points of difference is what we look for as well.

ECRM: I'm glad we were able to put this thing together to help you guys keep on going during this time when you can't do face-to-face.

Morrin: Yeah, it's fantastic. To be honest, it's a core part of my job as well as a commercial manager here. I'd be nothing if I wasn't looking at new products or looking at new opportunities. Knowing I wasn't going to be traveling for the majority of this year and still may not travel at all this year, and go out and see products, to have a format where they come to me or I can at least control them coming to me, this is fantastic. Really, really appreciate it and really love being involved.

From posting on LinkedIn that the ESI was coming up, I got a lot of interest from people I know that we already trade with. Suppliers going, "How do I get involved in this?" I think the more that we can share and the more that we can interact, try and look after each other, everybody will benefit from it. It could be suppliers knowing that I've been involved in this event, reaching out to you guys to be involved as well to get their products further afield while we are limited in what we can do. It's changed, yeah. The world is changing. We're changing. We're going to be forever changed because of this; how we even interact with our own families.

I know my sisters, as a personal little story, I know my sisters are devastated that they can't go and visit my mom and dad. I'm like, "I wouldn't have visited my mom and dad that much either." If I was to go and see them now it's probably doubling down on what I would do in a normal year. Fortunately, they only live down the road. We are changing how we do business. We're changing personally, as well. I think for the better and I would hope for the better. By having events like this, it can only help add and improve.

ECRM: Yeah, this is going to be a permanent thing. We are still going to maintain in-person sessions, but this opens up a whole new opportunity. Even after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, there's still so many more opportunities to work these in along with the in-person that this is going to be a regular thing for us going forward.

Morrin: It's technology that's always been there, but it's just this change that will make it more permanent and really elevate this sort of platform. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that develops.

ECRM: Will you be participating in some of the other upcoming ones?

Morrin: Yes, as many as possible, where relevant and where we are strong in that category. We discussed before on CBD, and we discussed before on other trends happening in health and wellness. These are always very innovative. They're capturing certain different categories, and I know that you have CBD. Predominantly last year there was a CBD at that event. Where it suits us and where we have a commercial opportunity, we'll always be involved and want to interact with whoever you bring to the table.

ECRM: Speaking of CBD, I have something coming up for you next week. On Monday I'm doing an interview with Brightfield Group about trends in CBD in Europe.

Morrin: Very good.

ECRM: We'll be sharing that with all of you guys as soon as I get that posted.

Morrin: Excellent. Looking forward to that.

ECRM: Cool. I'm glad you had a great experience. I look forward to staying in touch with you and eventually seeing you again in person one of these days. Otherwise, we'll stay in touch digitally.

Morrin: Absolutely. Listen, thank you very much and thanks to all the team, especially Ylenia and Audrey this week as well. They've been really helpful, so much appreciated. Stay safe, and I'll see you soon.

ECRM:  Likewise.


John Van der Valk

ECRM Europe

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